The effects of the socio-economic issues faced by the refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons in Africa is a matter that calls for immediate measures and durable solutions to forced displacement, and standardization has a role to play in resolving and addressing these issue. The problems of forced migration in Africa, caused by the communities’ response to natural disasters, political/social imbalance, strife and general hostilities has led to the increase of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons. This refugee crisis is affecting millions of people and leads to the endangerment of nations that host immigrants, and also their surrounding regions. These effects are on different levels; it can lead to low fertility rates and domestic instability in families, depletion of labour in the economy, and also the undermining of basic social institutions. When forced migration flows are not well managed, it can create negative political and socio-economic consequences. It is pertinent to note here, that Africa is the most affected region having more than a third of the world’s forcibly displaced. Having given the brief overview of the effects of migration in Africa, this paper shall further address the socio-economic issues affecting refugees, returnees, and internally displaced persons (henceforth IDPs), the role of standardization in resolving these issues, strategies developed to address the issues and create durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa through standardization.
The issues and problems affecting refugees, returnees and IDPs are bordered on different factors relating to health, security, housing, education, and weak governance structures. The highest refugee concentrations are in some of the poorest countries in the world. The presence of these refugees compounds the already failing systems in these countries. Over time, their presence leads to more substantial demands for natural resources, health facilities, social services and employment. Their presence can also cause a strain in the local administrations which can lead to weak government structures. This economic impact, however, is not necessarily negative because an economic stimulus can be generated by the presence of refugees and can lead to the opening, expansion and development of the host countries, also, the presence of refugees as a focus of attention can also attract development agencies to the host areas. These issues, however, can be addressed through the implementation of standardization.
As put forward by the UNHCR in 2006, standards within the context of these groups deal with the process that involves according to rights of varying degrees of generosity to the refugees depending on the nature of their stay or sojourn in the host country. According to them, refugees should be afforded the most favourable treatment likened to nationals or permanent residents. These standards, defined in a series of resolutions, recommendations and conventions are adopted at a universal level, under the framework of certain organizations like the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Recognized refugees, since they may not be able to return to their countries of origin, are fully dependent on their host countries for both protection as well as a durable solution to their plight in the form of legal status and rights in order for their integration to be possible. Integration here refers to the completion of certain requirements to enable naturalization and acquisition of citizenship. This exempts aliens, who failing integration, can always go back to their country of origin. Standardization has a role to play in addressing the socio-economic issues faced by refugee, returnees and IDPs because it grants them the freedom to execute human rights (right to housing and an adequate standard of living, right to education, right to good health facilities etc.), employability opportunity to boost the economy, continuity of life/marriage among them and a sense of belonging leading to national peace and unity.
As also seen in the role of standardization, certain strategies have been employed to address these issues facing refugees, returnees and IDPs. An example of this is the implementation of a standardized Health Information System (HIS) to monitor refugee health programs between 2005-2010 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners. The aim of this was to improve the health status of refugees and other IDPs through evidence-based policy formulation and proper management of health facilities. According to WHO in their 2010 bulletin, a total of 17 operations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East were reporting into a standardized HIS using common tools and guidelines at the end of 2009. The introduction of standardized data collection and reporting tools into IDP camps and the increased availability and accessibility of data to policy makers has brought with it several advantages. The total population under surveillance was approximately 1.5 million refugees in 85 refugee camps across 24 different partners. This is a clear example of how standardization has been used to provide a durable solution to the forced displacement and issues affecting refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.
Refugees may need support to find a long-term durable solution once their status has been determined and immediate protection needs are addressed. The UNHCR however, fosters the promotion of three durable solutions for refugees as part of its core mandates. These three durable solutions are:
- Voluntary Repatriation
- Local Integration, and
Voluntary repatriation requires the use of appropriate measures to ensure that any decision made by the refugees to return to their country of origin is voluntary, without coercion and based on objective information. Support can be made to these refugees by providing them with information and advice on the situation of their country of origin, promoting development assistance and sustainable integration and also by facilitating return through negotiating a tripartite agreement between the country of origin and the host country. Local integration deals with the acceptance of the refugees to become citizens of the host country, after fulfilling certain requirements. Eligibility is on priority basis which includes refugees born in the host countries, those who do not have the possibility of repatriation and those who have established a close relationship with the host countries. Resettlement, which is closely related to local integration, involves the provision of long term protection to the refugees by the host countries.
In relation to these durable solutions for forced displacement, which were created and promoted by the UNHCR, standardization plays a key role in ensuring that these durable solutions are provided. Many of the standards provide a means to create durable solutions and due to this, many of these standards have been incorporated into the constitution/national laws of a growing number of countries in order to ensure its proper implementation. It is very certain that the role of standardization in addressing the issues of refugees, returnees and IDPs and creating durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa is of utmost importance and should be enhanced by its adoption into the constitution of more countries.